Pope Francis’s recent “Apostolic Exhortation Evangeli Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis, to the Bishops, Clerk, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World” outraged conservatives, most notably Rush Limbaugh, because it attacks capitalism. Even though I trust Rush, he admitted that he was just relying on Reuters when he expressed his dismay that Pope Francis would take on the free-market. I therefore decided to read the Exhortation myself to see if Reuters (which approved of the exhortation) and Rush (who did not approve) were right. I ended up skimming the 224-page document to get a sense of context and to assure myself that Rush was not misled by Reuters and that Reuters was not misled by its own ideology. As it happens, both Reuters and Rush were right.
Before I begin, though, let me say that the Pope’s economic remarks are only a small fraction of a larger work that should not be ignored. Indeed, when Pope Francis is not addressing specifically economic issues, the faithful should pay attention to his words if the Church is to survive in a world with increasing competition for people’s souls.
Pope Francis points out that these external pressures on the Catholic Church include competition from other religions, as well as pressure from what the Pope describes as a world “pervaded as it is by consumerism,” that breeds “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” Because of this this highly competitive ideological market, the Pope says — rightly, I think — that the Church must update and adapt its tactics, both among the faithful and to outsiders, while still keeping to its core mission of spreading Christ’s words and ministering to his flock.
But what about his Marxist language? Yes, it’s there and it’s really Marxist. Here are just a few excerpts to give you the flavor:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.
Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized:without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
At one level, these words repeat what the Church has said since its inception, which is that the faithful have an obligation to the poor. What’s new, and what cannot be denied, is that the words the Pope uses — e.g., “inequality,” “exploitation,” and “oppression” — have a definite pink, Marxist tinge. In the next paragraph, that tinge goes full red as the Pope makes an explicit attack against capitalism:
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.
It’s rather peculiar that Pope Francisco says that capitalism “has never been confirmed by the facts.” The history of world economic successes and failures should prove all the facts that anyone could want. The countries with the highest standards of living have always been capitalist. Moreover, as I noted in an earlier post, true capitalism has social and economic mobility. In a free market, while poverty inevitably exists (“For ye have the poor always with you,” Matthew 26:11), it’s a way station for people on their way to greater economic security, rather than an end point. In non-capitalist societies, however, the same families are mired in poverty for generations. This situation reaches its apex in communist societies, where entire populations are mired in poverty for generations.
The Pope doubles down on his Marxist economic analysis when he defends a managed economy as the best way to relieve income “inequality.” He seems unaware that economic inequality is not a byproduct of capitalism but is, instead, a byproduct of managed economies with their inevitable “crony capitalism” (which is a fancy word for corruption).
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.
There’s no way to pretty this up. The Pope is not saying that the best economic system is a free market system tempered by a moral citizenry. Moreover, if he’s saying that poor Third World countries suffer from free-market systems, and that these systems explain their appalling poverty, he’s just wrong. The fact is that poor, Third World countries don’t suffer from an excess of free-market systems. They suffer from corrupt governments, medieval theocracies, and socialist economic systems, all of which use the strong hand of government to interfere with the marketplace.
The laws of economics are both as abstract and as inexorable as the laws of physics. Governments that try to override them only end up perverting their inevitable, implacable outcomes. Icarus soared for a few minutes until his poorly designed wax wings ended in his fatal fall to earth. Government interference works for a few years as it pumps paper money into the economy, or redistributes from rich to poor, but then true wealth disappears and the managed, manipulated economy collapses, leaving a few winners (usually government cronies) and a lot of desperately poor losers. We give our losers welfare, but they’re still losers in a system in which true wealth diminishes as the government continuously impoverishes the wealth-creators in our society.
Okay. So the Pope went full Marxist. Why did he do that? I think the answer is a simple one: he’s from Latin America. The Latin American Catholic Church went Leftist in the 1950s and 1960s, when it developed “liberation theology.” This time line coincides perfectly with Pope Francis’s coming-of-age as a Catholic priest.
“Liberation theology” is a pure Leftist doctrine tacked onto Catholicism:
Liberation theology proposes to fight poverty by addressing its alleged source: sin. In so doing, it explores the relationship between Christian theology — especially Roman Catholic theology — and political activism, especially in relation to social justice, poverty, and human rights. The principal methodological innovation is seeing theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. For example Jon Sobrino, S.J., argues that the poor are a privileged channel of God’s grace.
Some liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword (social unrest), e.g. Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:35–38 — and not as bringing peace (social order)[better source needed]. This Biblical interpretation is a call to action against poverty, and the sin engendering it, to effect Jesus Christ’s mission of justice in this world.
Gustavo Gutiérrez gave the movement its name with his book A Theology of Liberation (1971). In this book, Gutierrez combined populist ideas with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He was influenced by an existing socialist current in the Church which included organizations such as the Catholic Worker Movement and the French Christian youth worker organization, “Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne”. He was also influenced by Paul Gauthier’s “The Poor, Jesus and the Church” (1965). Gutierrez’s book is based on an understanding of history in which the human being is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for human destiny, and yet Christ the Savior liberates the human race from sin, which is the root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression.
Gutierrez also popularized the phrase “preferential option for the poor”, which became a slogan of liberation theology and later appeared in addresses of the Pope. Drawing from the biblical motif on the poor, Gutierrez asserts that God is revealed as having a preference for those people who are “insignificant,” “marginalized,” “unimportant,” “needy,” “despised” and “defenseless.” Moreover, he makes clear that terminology of “the poor” in scripture has social and economic connotations that etymologically go back to the Greek word, ptōchos. To be sure, as to not misinterpret Gutierrez’s definition of the term “preferential option,” he stresses, “Preference implies the universality of God’s love, which excludes no one. It is only within the framework of this universality that we can understand the preference, that is, ‘what comes first.’”
As you can see, liberation theology’s defining concept is “social justice,” which is what all Leftist faiths (Unitarians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Reform and Conservative Jews, etc.) espouse. The United Nations, in 2006, explicitly defined “social justice” as economic redistribution:
The United Nations’ 2006 document “Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations”, states that “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth…” The same document reports, “From the comprehensive global perspective shaped by the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, neglect of the pursuit of social justice in all its dimensions translates into de facto acceptance of a future marred by violence, repression and chaos.” The report concludes, “Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.”
So no, you’re not imagine that Pope Francis is preaching Marxism to the flock. He is a product of his time and place: namely the Catholic Church in Latin America from the 1950s through to the present. The Church there is a Marxist institution and he has absorbed those teachings.
What we are seeing is simply another example of the Left’s march through institutions. The Quakers, once pacifists, now promote the Palestinian’s genocidal ambitions against Israel. The Girl Scouts of America, once a youth organization promoting wholesome values for children, now sponsors pro-abortion speakers and is basically run by a far-Left drag queen who made anti-woman, pseudo-snuff videos. The Boy Scouts of America now allows gays (showing that, on the Left, its okay if troop leaders or older scouts molest little boys into the future, but it’s not okay if priests in the 1960s once molested little boys). Notre Dame, once a bastion of Catholic education in America, now invites Barack Obama to give pro-abortion speeches on its campus. Hollywood, which once was run by patriotic Republicans, now promotes anti-American Leftism throughout the world. And of course, there’s the pervasive Leftism that now permeates America’s public schools and all of its universities.
When we read the Pope’s words, it’s important to understand that he doesn’t see himself as a Marxist. He is, instead, preaching core Church doctrine as he sees it. The problem is that, while no one was really paying attention, core Church doctrine in Latin America fell victim to the Left’s long march through institutions. When Francis was given the papacy, he simply took that ingrained doctrine with him. Now that he is Pope, he’s not just spreading Christ’s gospel, he’s spreading the gospel of Liberation Theology, which he was trained to see as inextricably intertwined with Catholicism itself.
There is no doubt in my mind but that Pope Francis is a truly good man, graced with extraordinary compassion. He loves the Church and does not wish to see it destroyed. The primary purpose of the Exhortation is to allow the church to grow and thrive in modern times.
Given Pope Francis’s mission and his goal, it’s tragic that he fails to see that the Marxist, redistributive policies he genuinely believes are part of Catholic doctrine also spell the death knell for the Church. Why do I say that? I say that because I defy you to name me one society in the world that managed to be both socialist and communist, and still be genuinely (as opposed to nominally) Christian. To the extent that Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, revolves around the individual — his conscience, his soul, his redemption, his relation to Christ, his worthiness to live (“I say to you, choose life”) — Christianity is antithetical to socialism, which promotes the collective at the expense of the individual and replaces the individual’s conscience with the demands of the state.